Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Is "Trance" Able to Get Sci-Fi and Danny Boyle Back into the Best Picture Race?

It has been awhile since we have seen director Danny Boyle foray into cinemas. True, he gave us a spectacular opening ceremony to last year's London Olympics and before that, a stage production of Frankenstein starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller. However, his last film, the gorgeous 127 Hours, was three years ago. Still, as his most recent film Trance is set to debut this week in America, it is time to consider that Boyle may be one of the few that could take the science fiction category and place it into the Best Picture race.

Before you go dismissing my judgment, let me clarify. Boyle is on a winning streak when it comes to movies and the Academy. After Slumdog Millionaire earned him dual Best Picture and Best Director statues, he had the impeccable skill of tackling a more human drama in 127 Hours. If anything, that film cemented Boyle as a promising director, as least when it comes to Academy Awards. While it was nominated for six Oscars and essentially won zero, it wasn't from lack of trying. If anything, I consider 127 Hours to be his best film since 28 Days Later and possibly my favorite in front of Trainspotting. I love Boyle's kinetic energy and ability to turn grotesque into art.

That is why I have more hope than I should that the Academy will give Trance a shot at Best Picture. At very least, more than Looper, which saw the science fiction genre churn out a modest hit and one that left many crying that a Best Original Screenplay nomination was not on its mantle of accomplishments. However, I could argue that director and writer Rian Johnson is not quite the household name, a fate that I feel cost Moonrise Kingdom a Best Picture nomination, though luckily got it a Best Original Screenplay nomination. It didn't win, but at very least it shows that the Academy is continuing to branch out and look at new things.

As I have argued in the past, science fiction is not a category that gets much love. From the following red band trailer (caution: some gore-filled imagery abounds), this looks to be just as intense as Looper, but with a more psychological twist akin to Inception:

Yes, it looks fun and intense. It definitely feels like Boyle firing on all cylinders after years of preparing more traditional productions. It also feels a little like the recent film Side Effects in which the characters go into somebody's head to understand the crime. However, instead of arguing about what the film looks like, here is a description, according to IMDb, of what the film actually is:
"An art auctioneer who has become mixed up with a group of criminals partners with a hypnotherapist in order to recover a lost painting."
A pretty simple story with a great cast that includes James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson, and Vincent Cassel. Another plus is that it is written by John Hodge, who has collaborated numerous times with Boyle on projects. His most notable effort may be Trainspotting, in which he received a Best Adapted Screenplay nod. The only complaint is that he has also written some of Boyle's less favorable work, including A Life Less Ordinary and the middling production of The Beach: a film that was a tease of Boyle into science fiction before he created great genre films like 28 Days Later and Sunshine.

With an Oscar nominated director and writer, Trance already is more on the Academy's radar. However, the rest of Boyle's more science fiction films have not featured the Boyle/Hodge team-up and was prior to his Slumdog Millionaire win. While this could largely be due to neither being on the Academy's radar, it can also be a precursor to how Trance can play out. However, science fiction isn't entirely void of this genre. As stated in the past, films like District 9 and Inception have gotten nominated, though largely thanks to the people behind it. In this case, there would need to be trust that Boyle's name and back-to-back Best Picture nominations can boost this little film.

Rosario Dawson

The question right now is if the film is any good. Presuming it is, it also suffers from being released before the period that I consider most films to be recognized. The earliest release from last year's nominees was Beasts of the Southern Wild, which came out in June. We are still a few months shy, and unfortunately I feel will result in brilliant titles like Spring Breakers, The Place Beyond the Pines, Stoker, and Side Effects from getting their due. As much as the Academy is becoming more progressive, there is nothing more damning to a consideration process than early release in a time where G.I. Joe: Retaliation is the number one film in the country.

It has little to do with the film being good or bad. April is just not a lucky month to get the movie to go the extra mile. It is getting closer, but not close enough. At best, I can imagine that Trance stands a chance at Best Original Screenplay if anything. As Inception proved, the Academy likes complex stories sometimes. However, it is too early for me to predict what the big competitors will be. Also, as great as John Hodge's work in Trainspotting was, he didn't win. That may get him some recognition, but that film was released in 1996 and bears little significance to the Academy in comparison to Slumdog Millionaire writer and winner Simon Beaufoy. A win almost guarantees some form of recognition in the future. The amount of losers in that category don't.

Let us get to the facts now. How is the film being perceived now? True, not every Academy Award nominated film has universally acclaimed appeal, but it does factor in on majority of occasions. According to review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes, Trance has 69%. This is largely based off of reviews that were collected upon the film's premiere overseas. There is still a chance for fluctuation. However, it does rank a little bit lower than Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire (94%) and 127 Hours (93%). For it to climb into the 90% range would seem a little daunting at this point, though maybe some American critics will help it out.

Vincent Cassel
Still, notable complaints for the film have focused heavily on the script's sort of convoluted approach. It also is very schizophrenic and has no lasting impact. One quote comes from Peter Debruge of Variety, which sums up majority of the criticisms on the page:

"Superficial pleasures aside, however, the convoluted script jumps and dodges so often, it soon loses the thread of its own story."
Even in comparison to Inception, which garnered an 86% rating, that is hurtful to the film's chance at a Best Original Screenplay nomination. While it is yet to be seen how much of an impact the film will have on audiences in America, it also needs to become a phenomenon on par with Inception, which became a running gag the entire summer of 2010 as the most confusing movie of the year. Trance doesn't even feel like it has that marketing going for it, nor with as established blockbuster names like Christopher Nolan. As much as I love Danny Boyle, he doesn't exactly always make films that people admire to Nolan-level. At most, they complain about graphic imagery that hurt 127 Hours if only slightly in revenue.

While I still am ecstatic to see Trance, I feel like this is not going to be Boyle's triumphant return to the Academy Awards. If something as great as Spring Breakers or Stoker cannot make it, I feel Trance cannot. All are ambitious and give plenty of reasons to enjoy early 2013 cinema, but that doesn't mean anyone cares about next year's ceremony right now. We just finished the Oscars for last year a few months ago, and we could use a break. It's a shame, because there's a lot of goodies so far. I just wonder if Trance will be one of them.

Is this Danny Boyle's return to the Oscars? Can the film even garner a Best Original Screenplay nomination? Is this film on par with his other science fiction tales? Will John Hodge's Trainspotting praise boost the possible nomination?

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